Because my mom would look at me and say, there’s always been something irritating about you, starting with the fact that I was a dry birth. There was no lubricant, it was very painful for her….”
by david moscovich
(Transcribed by David Moscovich from Digital Dictophone January 2006.)
I’m in his straw bale attic, on the third floor of a barn, in the Great Northwest, as it’s called, on a sheep farm overlooking the shipyards of the Columbia River. The braying of sheep when I climb the ladder hovers over the UFO-like sounds of the bleeping shipyards below. It’s a spacious dwelling, as cozy and down-home as a trustworthy but stanky old dog. A snug abode to be sure, despite the dried rat carcass, dusty and mangled, safety-pinned to a clothesline by it’s brittle tail, and a disconcerting mug shot of a younger (brother?) in bright orange fatigues. The television, sitting low to the ground, is covered with bubblewrap followed by a thin, purple and red layered tissuepaper sillouette of a silky dancer in fishnet stockings. A vintage mustard drumset dominates the room, however, as do the myriad of colorful toys sitting on the floor tom – plastic starfish, bells, cheap necklaces and brass knick-knacks hanging from various chainlink appendages that scowl the walls through the visible insulation.
DM: So let’s start with the womb, to be perfectly cliche. How did it feel? What did you first feel when you popped out? This is an interview by the way, with Shane Schneider.
SS: Or, what’s my other name?
DM: Shane Ronet?
SS: Tim gave me that name. Tim Duroche, because I was playing one night, and he couldn’t remember my last name, so he made up Ronet, which is tenor backwards.
DM: So that was Tim Duroche’s creation.
SS: Yeah. My last name. He’s a writer.
DM: And that was the first thing you remember when you popped out of the womb?
SS: That shirt is amazing.
DM: Thank you.
SS: No, that’s not the first thing I remember.
DM: Do you remember that feeling?
SS: Popping out of the womb? I didn’t exactly pop out of the womb, I’m told. This is what I was told, that I was gestated for ten days. Or ten months, rather, vine-ripened I think you might say. And they had a hard time getting me out, I didn’t want to come apparently.
DM: That’s unusual.
SS: It was unusual for me. Existence I find to be pretty unusual. They had to pull me out with forceps. They gave my mother drugs to induce labor, they pulled me out with forceps eventually, and it took awhile to get me breathing.
DM: But you say you weren’t born in the amniotic sack?
SS: Interesting word, born. I was born. I was in there, I was in the sack.
DM: You were in there and then you say you burst out?
SS: Because my mom would look at me and say, there’s always been something irritating about you, starting with the fact that I was a dry birth. There was no lubricant, it was very painful for her, because it wasn’t like a water slide at Six Flags Amusement Park.
DM: So, she was in labor for how long?
SS: I don’t know, she won’t talk about it. She’s just irritated with me.
DM: And that continued through childhood?
SS: I think so. Well, she got back at me I guess. She irritated me.
DM: So what was your first instrument? After the womb?
SS: My first instrument? Well, my first memory would be lying on my side, I’m a toddler, maybe two and half years old, in the living room, and I’m tracing everything I can see, tracing the shape of everything with my finger.
DM: You were contour drawing right away.
SS: Right away. I just came out contour drawing. I guess my first instrument was a set of bongos. Or my mother’s pots and pans. I saw Buddy Rich on television, he was playing the drums with brushes and I knew where there were some in my house. The turkey baster. And that was my first thrill. It was like, this is it. Of course that got washed out of me later on, but for a moment there I felt like I got in touch with the IT, the purpose, and my parents said no, you’re ruining the furniture. A couple years later, I had my grandma talk them into buying me a set of bongos.
DM: Your grandmother was your first advocate.
DM: So there were the turkey basters. What was your first gravy like?
SS: My first gravy? Oh. You’re being clever.
DM: Just answer the question.
SS: Dave Brubeck blew my mind. I think I was eleven when I first heard him. By that time I had a little recorder, it was like an ocarina, shaped like a sweet potato but straight. What did they call it? A Tonette. It was called a Tonette. The fingering was the same as a recorder. I remember they told us about it in class, I was in grade school. They said go home, bring some money back after school. And I couldn’t wait, I skipped out of school during recess, climbed under the fence, ran home got the fifty cents from my mother and got my first Tonette. Which, for all intents and purposes, was a recorder. I used to try to play along with Dave Brubeck. Time Out was the album. Playing the tonette with one hand and trying to play the bongos with the other. Listening to it on, what do they call those things now, the stay-at-home-stereo.
DM: The Hi-Fi.
SS: Yeah, it was a Magnavox. But they called it something else. Console, the Console. It was a piece of furniture.
DM: Until you were, what — about eight?
SS: No, no, no. Sure, at one time I was eight. Yeah, that’s true. But when I got the ocarina, the Tonette, and the turkey basters, I played a lot of calypso with the bongos and the ocarina. I was so into the calypso thing. They gave me a straw hat with a rubber alligator stapled to it, I had these raggedy pants, they were beachcombers, and I had a shirt that was made from two bandanas knotted at the corners together so my arms would slip through. I was always listening to Harry Belafonte and playing the bongos along with the record. I was about six. They were the kind of bongos you had to hold over the stove to tune the heads. They gave them to me when I was six, and when I left home at the age of eighteen I still had them. That’s how encouraging they were as far as my percussive career. It was the only instrument they ever gave me.
DM: You left when you were eighteen.
SS: Seventeen or eighteen. I left with the bongos, a painting, and a record. And Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot. I used to climb into a boxcar and wait for them to haul me out of there. Out of my little town of Fort Madison, Iowa. I’d have a satchel with a change of clothes, the Bhagavad-Gita and a Playboy magazine, some pipe tobacco and a corncob pipe. I’d put some wooden matches in the satchel and tell my parents I’m going down to the library to study but I would really go to the freight yard and climb into a boxcar with my satchel.
DM: How long would you sit there?
SS: Oh, until it started getting dark, or I was cold or hungry, realizing it wasn’t happening that day, so I’d go home.
DM: Try again the next day.
SS: Exactly. But it tied in, because one of my first goals was I wanted to be what we call a bum. I like the word tramp better. I wanted to be a tramp. A hobo. That was my big goal in life. Actually I wanted to get my doctorate in psychology and be a hobo. That was my first dream. And somewhere in there I used to pretend that I was a stockbroker. At one point, I was six, seven, eight, nine years old.
DM: Did you read the financial section of the times?
SS: I did indeed. Looked at all the numbers, tried to figure out what they meant.
DM: First thing in the morning?
SS: Yeah. I’d get up to get the paper ahead of my dad.
DM: What did your parents think of it?
SS: My mother had suspicions. It reminded her of her grandfather.
DM: Suspected you were what?
SS: Suspected that I was strange. Sitting in the back of the car I would pretend to smoke a cigar, I had a piece of grape vine and my sisters would be my secretaries, my dad was the chauffeur, this is my take on life, I’d be back there with the financial section in the station wagon.
DM: Driver. Take us to Times square.
SS: Right. Take me to the swimming pool. Take me to the country club.
DM: So what was strange about your grandfather?
SS: I don’t know. I never met him. But I’m told that he gave me a pocket knife to chew on because he thought I could teethe on it. A big bone-handled pocket knife. And a coon skin. A raccoon skin that he’d trapped. And the hide to lay on. Yeah, he was an interesting character. My grandmother who he married was really interesting. She divorced him, which a woman didn’t do back in those days, and he bought her a farm right next to his. And I have a feeling they probably were still conjugal. They just couldn’t live together was the story.
DM: Ahead of their time.
SS: I guess. His name was Silas Grant.
DM: That’s a great name. Any relation to Ulysses?
SS: Where did you get any relation to Ulysses?
DM: Ulysses S. Grant.
SS: Oh, I thought you meant Ulysses, the book. Yes, actually, the guy who’s on the five dollar bill – who is on the five dollar bill? Ten maybe, twenty, I can’t remember. Yes, I am descended from Ulysses S. Grant.
DM: We’re here to get the real story.
SS: This is the real story. This is what my grandmother told me, true story, that I was descended in some way from Ulysses S. Grant. He had a wife and kids, and they had wives and kids too. We’re all related somehow. It wasn’t father to son, or anything like that. It’s probably true, I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. Not that it makes any difference to me. But I thought you were talking about the book Ulysses.
DM: No, the General. Not James Joyce.
SS: Right, Ulysses S. Grant. The other Generals used to complain to Lincoln that he was a drunkard, they would complain to Abraham Lincoln. But at least he was winning battles, so it was reported Lincoln said to his general, order a barrel for each of my other generals. Maybe it will help. A barrel of whiskey. But that’s not my claim to fame. My claim to fame is that I’m being interviewed by you.
DM: [laughing] Obviously.
SS: That’s what I’m going on. That’s my laurels.
DM: Good luck with that.
SS: I’m resting on those laurels.
DM: Should we sit down?
SS: You can. I’m going to stand.
David Moscovich (a.k.a. Voices From the Fictionary) writes flash fiction and performs them as monologues and improvised polyglottonous nonsense-scat in subway stations, on streetcorners and clubs. He needs 57 microphones on stage to effectively portray the number of narrators who propel, subdue, and postpone the telling of the story. A direct descendent of Vlad the Impaler, he has no sense of rhythm and he can’t dance the cha-cha. He lives in blissful perplexity in Japan. More stories from David Moscovich can be found in the Vault of Smoke.